If You Own a Piece of Art, Can You Legally Eat It?

Joe Wolf's 'The Last Supper, Pepper-Sprayed' | © Joe Wolf/Flickr
Joe Wolf's 'The Last Supper, Pepper-Sprayed' | © Joe Wolf/Flickr
Photo of India Irving
Social Media Editor11 January 2018

Weird question, we know, but can you legally eat an artwork if you’ve bought it? The answer will surprise you!

Issac Kaplan over at Artsy encountered this conundrum on Reddit and decided to get to the bottom of it.

Now, you may assume that because you own the artwork, you can do what you want with it, including ingest it – if that’s how you roll. But the truth of the matter is a bit more complex than that.

Emmanuel Morales’s Balanced Breakfast | © Emmanuel Morales/Flickr

Whether or not you can eat your art investment depends on a few factors thanks to the United States’ Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which protects certain works against the dangers of digestion (and other similarly horrific ends).

Basically, there are four factors that determine whether or not your painting can be part of your diet.

The first element to consider is that VARA’s protection only applies to work created after December 1 1990, so, should an artwork you own pre-date that, you can legally destroy it by whatever means you see fit.

However, even if the artwork in your possession was created after that magic date, you can only destroy it if more than 200 copies of the original work exist. If it is a unique piece or part of an edition of 200 or less, it is protected by VARA and had better not end up in your tummy.

The only potential way around this is if you are eating the work in question as a display of performance art. If that’s the case, there is a chance you could prove fair use in court, but it would be a risk. Probably not as high a risk as your being ill from eating a bunch of artwork, so either way, it may be best to have a sandwich instead.

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